2017-05-11 / Opinion

The Unification Factor


There has been a quiet resurrection of the conversation about merging two of Aquidneck Island’s three high schools, Newport and Middletown, into one regional campus.

In November 2013, the Newport City Council voted unanimously to support a unified high school exploratory committee established by the Middletown town council. In 2014, a non-binding question was included on the ballots in Newport and Middletown. Newport residents were for it, and Middletowners were resolutely against.

The topic ebbed a bit last fall after an open space workshop when a discussion about the future of Newport’s North End segued into talk about joining forces with Middletown. Last week, in a story in Newport This Week about the “tough fiscal road ahead” for Newport and the projected $80 million price tag for maintenance and repairs for the district’s trio of schools, Mayor Harry Winthrop reportedly suggested that “as Middletown's schools are facing similar issues,” it might be time to take another look.

Winthrop, in fact, called Middletown Town Council President Robert Sylvia to float the idea. At this point, however, the conversation has gone no further.

Playing devil’s advocate, we’d like to continue the thread. At a May 2 school committee budget workshop, Newport Supt. Colleen Jermain pushed a number of buttons. “Rogers is an aging building,” she told the committee. “As we move forward, new repairs will impact the old ones.” She then zeroed in on the future of the children they are educating, and the importance of state-of-the-art facilities. “Technology at every level is important," she said. “Industries in our state are saying they need educated, qualified students. We need to give our students these opportunities.”

Besides the obvious pros of a new facility, other pros include the academic and social plusses, and the strength, at many levels, in numbers.

There are obvious cons. Some school committee members have pointed out that more that $3 million has been spent to replace an aging roof at Rogers. There is also the scenario of school cultures butting heads, not to mention the inevitable displacement of beloved teachers and administrators.

Bridges already exist. The RMR (Rogers, Middletown and Rocky Hill School) hockey squad is now in its third year, Rogers and Middletown have held joint “Glow Dances,” and the Pop Warner football teams now play as one. On Thursday and Friday, May 11- 12, in collaboration with the Rogers High School Theatre Company and the Middletown High School Drama Club, will present the musical "The Drowsy Chaperone," at 7 p.m. in the Rogers High School Auditorium.

Rogers was built in 1957. Middletown went up in 1960. The price of maintaining individuality means staying in crumbling buildings, like holding onto an ancient car because it is attached to one’s fondest memories.

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